By Tim Lane
Well, it’s me. Again. I know. We thought we’d never have to hear from each other after that speech I gave at graduation thirty years ago. That was the deal.
I hadn’t really thought about you, or that speech, all that much since that warm June night in the Stadium; it’s actually a little painful for me now to remember, how mawkishly earnest it was, full of references to Big Men in History. Lincoln. FDR. JFK. By way of explanation, I want you to know that all I was trying to do that night was make sense of my first 18 years on this rock. I never felt like I belonged among you. I didn’t have the words for it back then, but I knew what I felt was no mere teenage anomie. It was more like contempt. Which for some reason, probably our Catholic upbringing told me it was wrong and sinful to feel superior to anyone–I chose to keep very hidden from you under that cloak of earnestness. Which is kind of funny, because you never, ever, made your contempt for me a secret. I will give you this: you were never anything but honest with me. And so, this letter is an apology of sorts for being so publicly dishonest the last time we saw each other. I think I might have been trying to inspire you, maybe, to think more outside of the tiny little eddy of space and time we were all stuck in—or at least, that I felt stuck in with you. You probably read that as arrogance. Fair enough, because I frankly did not give a shit about you, at all, by the time we Graduated from High School. We both know you know all the reasons why. So I own my dishonesty and apologize for having gone on and on for 20 minutes when all either of us really wanted to do was get out of there and get to the Keg Party in The Woods. All I really wanted to say, all I wish I had said, was “Fuck you, I’m out of here. Good luck.”
So no I haven’t given you much thought in 30 years. But since that night last November when I heard you screaming all the way across the country and you pierced and shattered what you like to call my Bubble (maybe you don’t call it that, maybe it’s just The Dishonest Media who says you say that—but I digress) you’re all I think about. So now that I’m finally being very honest with you—as always as you have always been with me—God, this is fucking liberating!—let’s both of us be honest with The Dishonest Media and the whole world about what this is really about.
You see, since that night in November, The Dishonest Media keep saying that I don’t understand You because I am living in my prosperous City in my prosperous State on my prosperous Ocean coastline, I have been so self-absorbed that I have failed to see How You Struggle. How You Suffer. How, because I am surrounded by friends who make the Shiny Things that make them a Lot of Money (that you like to buy) I’ve lost sight of Who You Are. That it was You and people like you—White people, like us–who Made America Great once. And that because You Suffer, America is no longer great. We have failed you. People like me, who really meant to say “Fuck you guys, I’m out of here. Good luck” when we left you 30 years ago, have forgotten you. But I did not forget you, and I’m calling Bullshit on Your Suffering.
I will admit I tried to forget you, because my first 18 years on this rock were a living hell because of People Like You. The Dishonest Media will say that you and I do not have a set of Shared Values. But we both know we grew up in the same Church; we have both worked hard in our ways. About the only Value I can think of that we may not share is the Value of Whiteness. Because it is pretty clear to me that, whatever challenges you have had (and I know you have had some—My Mother is still a bit of a gossip), Your Suffering while White has been the worst part of it to you.
For 30 years, every once in a while she would try to catch me up on What’s Going On with The Guys We Grew Up With in Our Working Class Town, and I would just let her talk because that’s what she does, and she’s my Mom. But I didn’t and still don’t really give a shit about your jobs or your wives or your kids (God I fucking love this honesty thing!). She knows all about your challenges (the Whole Town does, really—you apparently have a Big Mouth), but, I mean, she grew up Working Class too, so it’s not like she wouldn’t empathize. Maybe it was all just pretty unremarkable to her, or not different from any of The Others who she saw suffering in similar ways, though The Others always did seem to find a way to get by. Or, did The Dishonest Media make up Your Suffering so that we wouldn’t have to talk about why voting for Trump made you feel So Very Good about Yourself? Perhaps we can agree on this: The Dishonest Media don’t understand you, really. Most of them didn’t grow up where we grew up; they grew up among Elites in The Big Cities on the Coasts of the Oceans, Lakes, and some of the Rivers. But, I do. Even though I left you as soon as I could after that silly speech on that warm night in June in that Stadium, I have always understood this part of you.
We both know from your earliest days that the thing you value most—more than education, more than hard work, more than God Almighty, and maybe as much as your guns, is your Whiteness. Jobs and wives come and go, but you and I, we will always be White guys. You, in fact, were the one who told me this, that day in third or fourth grade, at recess, and somehow you had learned that my babysitter was that Latina girl who always sat with her family in the back of our Church on Sundays. It was no big secret, my Mother really liked her and her family and chatted to them after Church. She was a pretty awesome babysitter, by the way—she showed me nothing but love, and taught me how to count to 10 in Spanish. But you called her ugly and a spic and a whore, first time I had heard those words, and teased me that I had better tell my parents to make sure that the silver and china were still there—which I’m guessing was your Mother’s question to my Mother since I don’t know many 8 year old boys who give a shit about the about the silver and china. I know, we were kids, kids will be kids, and you’re not racist like your parents, and how dare I imply that. How could you be? My Mother did tell me that Your Son is now dating a Latina girl, whom you think is actually kind of pretty. She is really pretty. She’s more or less the same age now as my babysitter was when you and your parents said those dehumanizing things about her. Are you jealous of Your Son? You have probably thought about her in that way. That’s probably why they don’t come back from The City together to visit you, and that he doesn’t spend much time with you alone, either.
My mother told me she is really smart, too, and that her father is sanitation worker (whom you insist on referring to as a “trash collector”) who has trouble still with English (like both of our parents’ parents who came here from some European White Country and spoke that Other White language, back in the day—can you believe our families have known each other that long!), and her mom is a cashier at The Grocery Store. She was just accepted to the Best University in The City on the Ocean coast on a full scholarship, and your White Son, who worked so hard, is going to have pay his own way at the Community College nearby and hopefully transfer into the State University. You’ve apparently made your opinion on this known around The Town Where We Grew Up, because it got back to her.
You think she’s getting special treatment because her trash collector father doesn’t speak English very well and she’s probably not very bright either. Not bright enough to have gotten into the Best University. Not bright and outgoing like Your Son. Who, according to my Mother, seems perfectly fine with how things have worked out, and hasn’t once tried to make you feel badly about the fact that you have shitty credit and no savings, because you spent all your money on guns and hunting trips after The Company busted your Union (whose dues you never liked paying, so you didn’t mind too much) and your take home pay went up for a while, until your hours were cut and then those hunting trips to The Mountains were put on the Credit Card. And The Credit Card Company kept giving you more credit, until they didn’t, and you couldn’t pay it back, and you had to borrow money from Your Brother to pay Some Jewish Lawyer from The City to declare bankruptcy for you and you still haven’t paid him back like you said you would, but he’s Your Brother and he’s not asking. It’s pretty amazing that she knows all this stuff about you. I guess she’s been paying attention to you. Anyhow she wasn’t being mean when she told me all of this. She was just happy to see you get back on your feet again, for Your Son’s sake. She likes him a lot.
The Election reminded me of that time in eighth grade when we did that mock election right before Halloween. We had to stand on different sides of the classroom. I stood on the Jimmy Carter side with a handful of others; you were over on the Reagan side. And our teacher told us all that she was happy to see that most of us were Pro-Life and Pro-America. I remembered all of that when I heard you screaming “U-S-A” on the top of your lungs that night last November. I realized that the last time I had seen you, I was on my way to my Elite School in The City on the Ocean coast, and you were going to work in The Factory like Your Father had. I think I know the answer to this, but I’ll ask anyhow: did you keep standing with the Reagan kids after eighth grade? After High School? Even after they busted The Union at The Factory? Even after the Salvadorean guys who The Church had sponsored as refugees because of all the Shit America Caused down there in the 80s and 90s started getting hired as janitors at $4/hr less than the Union would ever have allowed? Even after your nephew came home from Fallujah in 2004 with no arms and one leg? My Mother said she saw an Obama sign on your lawn in ‘08—she was so surprised!—before Your Foreclosure. But then she had heard you’d become a Teabagger. When she told me this, I’ll admit I couldn’t stop laughing—she even accused me of being horribly insensitive to Your Suffering. I assured her I was still The Son She Had Raised Me To Be, and told her to Google “Teabagging” and “John Waters.”
When My Mother called me the day after that night in November, she was really upset. Someone had scratched “Lying Bitch” “Lock Her Up” and “Fuck Sand N—“ (she cannot say that word, I said it once as a kid because it was in the punch line of some joke I heard from you at recess; she dragged me into the bathroom and washed my mouth out with soap before telling me what it really meant) on the trunk of her car in the parking lot of The Grocery Store. (I had told her not to put a Hillary bumper sticker on the car. She has always worn her politics on her sleeve and I have always admired her for that: but this year, I was worried. She said she wasn’t worried.) She also mentioned that she had seen you earlier that day, on Main Street, wearing your red Make America Great Again hat and T shirt with a lot of other Guys We Grew Up With. And then she started talking about Your Son, who is still with that Latina girl. The Cashier said he seemed to be pretty happy in The City. She told me my mother she thinks they’re going to get engaged soon.
Every time since that day, since talking to My Mother when she said she saw you, I have been thinking about you. And I need to know this. Do you feel Conned? Because you have been. I won’t say it makes me happy to see you so obviously duped and taken by Trump because he marked you as Suffering While White. Because I know enough to know that your challenges, even though you made some bad decisions along the way, were real. Of course they Made You Angry at A System that is Stacked Against You, against people who come from Where We Come From. And now you’ve sucked the Whole Country and the Whole World really into your temper tantrum, and it’s probably just going to make things worse for you. A whole lot worse.
I’ll probably be fine; I live in a City on the coast of an Ocean, my fiance and I make Good Money and we’re flying My Mother out for Our Gay Wedding in the spring. Which we’re paying for with the Tax Cuts that we are pretty sure Trump will give us. (I always thought it was funny how I always vote in your economic interest, and you vote in mine. Thanks, for that. Really.)
Anyhow, I can’t say I’ve enjoyed this trip down Memory Lane with My Mother in the months since November, and you being on my mind so much, but, I figured I would write you and let you know I heard you. We all heard you. I still believe in all the high-minded ideals and better angels of People In History, like Lincoln, FDR, and JFK, and Harriet Tubman and Fredrick Douglass, and Cesar Chavez, Jane Roe and Lily Ledbetter, too. Because especially Tubman and Douglass, and Chavez, and Roe and Ledbetter knew how To Persevere in challenging times. You might learn something from them about struggle, about solidarity, about Persevering—though I know, in a town like The Town We Grew Up In, these are not things people talk about every day and you will have to go looking for them at The Library. But honestly (and I do promise never to be dishonest with you again) all I can think of when I think of you is, Fuck you. I’m out of here. Good luck.
About the writer
Tim Lane lives in Oakland, CA with his fiancé and dog. When not resisting, he enjoys sleep, yoga, cycling, martinis, and binge watching Netflix.
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